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Excerpt from 'When Mary Met the Colonel' by Victoria Kincaid
The pathway opened unexpectedly into a little clearing with a bench in the center. Fitz stumbled to a stop; the bench was inhabited.
His sudden appearance caused the young woman to start violently and drop her handkerchief. Her head jerked up to see who had disturbed her and immediately tilted down again. It was enough to reveal a pretty face, although perhaps not by conventional standards. Her brown hair was dark and glossy, pulled back in a severe style without any curls around her face. Her nose was a little long and her brows a little heavy for today’s fashions, but her mouth…was wide and pink with full, round lips. A mouth made for kissing. What the hell had provoked that thought?
“I beg your pardon, miss.” Fitz bent to retrieve the handkerchief. Taking it from his fingers, she was careful not to touch him while her eyes remained fixed on the stone of the path. “I did not mean to startle you…” She said nothing, crushing the handkerchief in one hand. “…I believed myself to be alone.”
Her eyes flicked up to his face and down again, long enough for him to discern that they were a dark, rich brown—but red-rimmed. “’Tis not your fault. I-I fear I startle easily.” Her voice was low and melodious. Fitz would love to hear her sing. If only he could inquire about the source of her tears, but he did not even know her name.
Perhaps he could lead to the subject indirectly. “It appears that we are both seeking a refuge from the crowds in the drawing room.”
She said nothing for a moment, but finally, she spoke. “Yes. My sister and her friend wished me to play dance music for them, but there is not enough space for dancing.”
Fitz gave a short laugh. “I thought so as well!” He cleared his throat. “You must be Miss Mary Bennet.”
The young lady dabbed at her eyes with a corner of the handkerchief, which was still fairly clean despite its tumble to the stones. “Yes. The two elder Miss Bennets are the pretty ones, and the two younger Miss Bennets are the lively ones. I am the one in the middle—neither pretty nor lively.” Her hand immediately flew to her mouth. “Oh, dear me! That sounded terribly bitter, did it not? I apologize, Colonel.”
Ah, he suspected that he had now uncovered the reason for her tears; such sentiments might be particularly acute on the day one of her sisters married. Fitz took the liberty of seating himself next to Miss Bennet. “Do you fear to offend my delicate sensibilities?” He batted his eyelashes absurdly, provoking laughter. “Only apologize if you are speaking an untruth.”
Her lips thinned into a flat line. “No. I always speak the truth.”
“No, you do not.” This caused her eyes to raise to his face in bewilderment. “You are quite pretty, perhaps not in the same way as your sisters.” Mary’s lips parted slightly, and she appeared, if anything, even more bewildered. Had no one ever said as much to her? “And if by ‘lively’ you mean that your sisters chase men wearing red coats, then I am quite pleased you are comparatively sedate.” This elicited a giggle from the young lady. “Your presence is quite restful, and so far your conversation is vastly more interesting.”
She blinked rapidly at him as if not understanding his words. Surely someone else had thought to tell her how pretty she was? Then a deep blush spread itself over her face and the part of her neck revealed by her gown’s neckline, much higher than today’s styles. Why did a simple compliment provoke such a reaction?
“Thank you. It is very kind of you to say.” Her voice was almost a whisper. Mary fixed her gaze on a number of blossoms in her lap.
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Not surprisingly the vast majority of Pride and Prejudice variations focus on Darcy and Elizabeth. But overwhelmingly the second most popular Bennet sister to write a variation about is Mary Bennet. I always found this a little curious. In the novel she is portrayed as judgmental, unattractive, moralistic, and socially awkward. So why is she such a popular protagonist for P&P variations?
While writing When Mary Met the Colonel, I mulled over this question. Several aspects of Mary’s character became clear. First: she’s alone. Elizabeth and Jane have each other for love and support—they are the responsible, stable sisters. Kitty and Lydia are partners in crime—chasing officers and getting into trouble. But Mary is alone, with no one in the family who shares her temperament or listens to her concerns. Even Mr. Bennet, who might be expected to appreciate her bookishness, thinks she’s silly. I believe readers—particularly readers of romance—are often drawn to characters who are lonely. Everyone knows what it’s like to be lonely, and everyone is happy to watch a character find someone to alleviate that loneliness.
Secondly, Mary is a bookish introvert. I will confess I am a bookish introvert (although I do have better social skills than Mary does—I swear!). I believe that many readers, and particularly readers of multiple P&P variations, are bookish introverts. Mary appeals to us because we see ourselves in her. While we would all love to be Elizabeth Bennet—witty, beautiful, strong-willed—most of us have a Mary Bennet part of our personality. So it is appealing to read a story in which the bookish introvert finds true happiness—and loses some of her moralistic, pedantic inclinations.
A lot of Mary-oriented stories have her falling in love with a clergyman or a nice, but dull man. I wanted to see Mary interacting with someone who had a very different temperament and more interesting profession. I thought about Colonel Fitzwilliam, and then set about crafting a Mary who has hidden depths to entice such a man. Hopefully other readers of P&P will like this Mary as well!
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Without the beauty and wit of the older Bennet sisters or the liveliness of the younger, Mary is the Bennet sister most often overlooked. She has resigned herself to a life of loneliness, alleviated only by music and the occasional book of military history.
Colonel Fitzwilliam finds himself envying his friends who are marrying wonderful women while he only attracts empty-headed flirts. He longs for a caring, well-informed woman who will see the man beneath the uniform.
A chance meeting in Longbourn’s garden during Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding breakfast kindles an attraction between Mary and the Colonel. However, the Colonel cannot act on these feelings since he must wed an heiress. He returns to war, although Mary finds she cannot easily forget him.
Is happily ever after possible after Mary meets the Colonel?
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Thank you so much Victoria, for this wonderful post! I thought the excerpt was just lovely, and I hope everybody else enjoys it too. Thank you too for the background to what prompted you to write this story; I am always curious to know what prompted writers to follow a particular plot bunny.
Victoria is kindly offering a chance for a commenter here to win a kindle version of 'When Mary Meets the Colonel'. To enter, just comment on this post. How do you feel towards Mary Bennet? This giveaway is open to international entrants who comment by the end of the day on Monday 22 February 2016. Please leave a way for me to contact you in case you are the lucky winner. You will be able to get a bonus entry to the giveaway by commenting on my review of the novella, which I'll publish later this week.